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Old Dubai [walking]

  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Last updated: 19 April, 2024

The buildings of ‘Old’ Dubai may only date back 100 years or so, but this neighbourhood, encompassing the Al Fahidi heritage district, Bur Dubai and the Creek itself, is the place to come to get a feel of the city’s history.

Until the 20th century, Dubai was a small pearl-diving and trading post, under the protection of the British as part of the Trucial States. Since the discovery of oil in the region, along with the formation of the UAE and independence in 1971, the city’s growth has been unprecedented, with mega-towers mushrooming out of the desert and tax-free zones drawing businesses and expatriates from across the globe.

From its roots as a centre of trade and pearling, Old Dubai is where you can catch a glimpse of how life would have felt before the skyscrapers arrived. Traditional wind towers rise up above the alleyways, old houses have been converted into atmospheric courtyard cafés and traditional wooden abra boats still cross Dubai Creek.

You can easily spend an entire day here, visiting some interesting museums, browsing the galleries, and shopping the souqs. Don’t miss the opportunity to get on the water – cross from one side to the other for just AED 1, or book your own abra for a private hour-long tour.

Who to go with: tour operators

5

Al Shindagha Museum

  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Al Shindagha Museum

Experience

A brilliant insight into the story of Dubai Creek and the city’s waterfront origins. Don’t miss the equally excellent adjacent Perfume House, focusing on the importance of scent in Emirati culture.

Adult price: £12

Good for age: 18+

Arabian Teahouse

  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Arabian Teahouse

Experience

A delightful former trader’s house in Al Fahidi where you could spend hours sitting in the atmospheric courtyard beneath the shady tree, sipping a mint lemonade or sweet karak tea.

Good for age: 18+

Gold Souk

  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Gold on the famous "Golden souk" in Dubai Deira market. Deira is an old commercial center of Dubai with the biggest street market.

Experience

An atmospheric bazaar where dazzling chains, earrings, headdresses and more drip from the shop windows, and good deals can be had if you know what you’re looking for. It’s regulated by the Dubai government to ensure authenticity.

Good for age: 18+

Spice Souk

  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Variety of spices and herbs on the arab street market stall. Dubai Spice Souk, United Arab Emirates.

Experience

While some stores feel a little touristy, locals really do stock up on spices here too. From Iranian saffron to piles of chilis, cloves and spice mixes, the shopkeepers will be happy to tell you about their stock and how you can use the spices back home.

Good for age: 18+

Textile Souk

  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

colorful shoes in souk Dubai,United Arab Emirates

Experience

Running alongside Dubai Creek, the main lane of the souk is firmly for tourists and vendors can be quite persistent. Head one street back to find the real textile shops that cater to local tailors, with hues of every colour, shimmering satins, thousands of sequins, and the classic blacks and whites that are used to make Emirati traditional dress.

Good for age: 13+

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

Old Dubai is centred on the western banks of the Creek. Al Ghubaiba Metro station is convenient for the museums of Al Shindaga, or ask a taxi to drop you at the Shindaga Historical District. From here, you can pop into the Al Shindaga Museum for a glimpse into the early years of Dubai Creek’s development, and the Saruq Al Hadid Museum to learn about the emirate’s ancient history.

Then follow the Creek in the direction of the souks, where you can browse the textile and souvenir shops. From there, it’s an easy stroll into the narrow alleys of the Al Fahidi heritage district, which adjoins the souks; easily recognisable by the traditional wind towers that adorn many of the buildings. Look out for the XVA Art Hotel and have a bite to eat in its courtyard café, or seek out the lovely Arabian Tea House for Emirati cuisine served in the shade of a tree.

Hop on an abra from either of the abra stations along this side of the Creek to the other side – they go when they’re full, which is usually just a matter of minutes. From here you can explore the spice and gold souks, before taking another abra back to the Bur Dubai side, preferably timed for the sunset. This is when the views are at their best and the call to prayer echoes from the many mosques that line the Creek.

If you still have some energy left, head to the Meena Bazaar area, where you’ll find plenty of casual restaurants serving good, cheap Indian food.

When to do it

Since this is one of the most walkable parts of the city, go when the weather is cooler. Avoid the peak summer months – late May to September, and unless you’re visiting in winter, it’s best not to go exploring in the middle of the day.

Sunset is a lovely time for an abra tour, and the heat of the day has passed, so best to start your tour around 4pm – this is when the souks are most lively too.

Who to go with: organised tours

12

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

  • Dubai

Join me on one of the most beautiful areas in Dubai and create memories you cannot forget during this Fun tour which is mix of Street Food, Museums, shopping, culture and history. Let me show you this unique side of Dubai like no other can! Enjoy stress-free visit to the local markets (souks) and Explore Grand Souk, spice Souk and Gold Souk and get the best deals with Aladdin. Visit the main highlights of old Dubai and the museums in Fahidi historical neighborhood and learn a lot about Culture, history, beliefs and lifestyle of Dubai and Arabs explained with fun. All this while getting stuffed with several tastings including arabic coffee, Tea, dates, chocodates and street food. Cruise Dubai Creek with the traditional boat (Abra) and enjoy the best views .

Price $32

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Rating 4.89 / 5 [2390 ratings]

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  • Dubai

Overview Take complete advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the iconic destination in Dubai with a sightseeing tour. Join us to admire the breathtaking beauty of the finest edifices like the Blue Mosque, Old Emirati House and many more. Highlights Explore some of the most iconic destinations in Dubai. Witness the magnificent Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Breathe in the architectural beauty of the well-known Blue Mosque. Enjoy a memorable shopping experience at the Gold and Spice Souks. Explore Al Khayma Heritage House, enjoying the fascinating tradition.

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  • Dubai

Discover the major tourist attractions, latest sites and upcoming developments of Dubai in the company of a professional licensed English-speaking tour guide. Dubai is an ever changing city and new tourist sites are always being added to the program. This five and half hour guided tour includes museum entrance, a shared boat ride and transportation in a luxury car or SUV from hotels in Dubai or the sea port. Our tour is a complete tour of Dubai that covers both old and modern Dubai.

Price $29

Min age 0

Rating 4.69 / 5 [671 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Dubai

Discover the hidden gems of Dubai's rich history and traditions on our small-group tour. We'll take you off the beaten tourist path to explore the authentic old Dubai, starting with the historic Al Fahidi neighborhood, offering a glimpse into the city's evolution from the mid-19th century to the 1970s. Highlights of the tour also include visits to Al Seef, the Dubai Museum, Al Fahidi Fort, and the intriguing Coins Museum. To conclude your adventure, enjoy a traditional boat ride to the vibrant gold and spice markets. Immerse yourself in the true essence of Dubai's heritage.

Price AED 95

Min age 1

Rating 4.84 / 5 [621 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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